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Aging in place: Worth it despite challenges

Part 2

We are extremely lucky to have two excellent retirement facilities in our area. Noble Horizons and Geer Village are both well appointed, full of caring people and, above all, safe. Safety is the top priority. Safety is what the families of residents want.

I don’t want to be safe. I want to be independent just as I have been since the age of 16. We are a litigious society and when safety and independence collide, lawsuits follow. Safety almost always wins. Independence is inconvenient for others. It is not cost effective. It is dangerous. Like life.

The conundrum is how to balance safety and independence. What trade-offs can we make for seniors to remain at home?  It is significantly less expensive to allow people to stay in their own homes with paid caregivers and visiting nurses than to place them in a nursing home. The money spent on warehousing the elderly could better be spent on making house calls and providing reliable transportation.

Remaining in your home as you age costs a fifth of what a facility costs, yet insurance companies often refuse to pay the costs. They seem to think that if you remain at home, someone, most likely a woman, will care for you. For free. Wives, daughters, sisters are given the choice of caring for someone they love or having a life. It is a false choice.

We must, as a society, begin to value our caregivers. We must offer a living wage even to those caring for a relative. We need to incentivize people to care for the aging. There are people who would be willing to care for us oldsters if they could afford to take the job. There are doctors who would be willing to be geriatricians if medical schools would elevate the specialty. There are currently only about 3,000 geriatricians for 52 million seniors. They are among the lowest paid specialists despite the ever-increasing demand.

Part of the problem is the deep-seated prejudice that Americans have toward the old. It is so deep-seated that even the old are prejudiced against the old. A major reason people give for not wanting to go into a retirement home is that they don’t want to be around other old people. But medical issues have a way of disrupting the last third of our lives.

Our healthcare system is broken. Seniors are shuttled from one specialist to another. Each one does an excellent job of addressing a single disorder yet none of them addresses the whole. They do not address the most devastating problems of seniors: mobility and isolation. If it is not a disease, it is not a medical issue. But it is.

Nobody wants to go to a nursing home no matter how attractive. Yes, sometimes it becomes the only option.

If we do need to be in care, then allow pets. For many people a dog or cat is their closest, most constant companion. Pets are problematic. I understand that. They are often not as sweet to others as their owners believe and their owners may not be able to care for them properly. There must be a way to accommodate something that all studies show to have a positive effect on a person’s well-being.

There are innovative programs all over America if we are willing to look; some use music or pets or children (despite being little germ factories) to beat the depression that often overtakes those entering care. The goal is to remain actively engaged with the community for as long as possible. Whether it is continuing to work or volunteering, poker or bridge, golf or tennis, painting or birding, everyone needs a purpose.

We seniors have to make the choice to stay involved and then seek the support to make it happen. It starts with finding ways to stay in your home without exhausting your family. We need to start thinking about why we don’t want to go into care. What is it you want to do that you can’t do in a retirement home? Think about it. Are you willing to use a walker if you can continue to stay at home? These are questions we need to be asking ourselves. It is our life and if we want to keep it we need to be willing to compromise. Most of all, we need to be willing to talk honestly with the people who love us. 

 

Part 3 next time.

 

Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books in Millerton where she has worked for more than 35 years. Email her at wrightales@gmail.com.